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Jonas Valanciunas

Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors have a chance to take centre stage in hockey-less market Add to ...

Bruce Dowbiggin posts his perspective on the world of sports each morning.

Imagine your dad throws you the keys to the Porsche and says, “Here, kid, take it for a spin.” Then you realize you still don’t have your driver’s license! (#theregoestheporsche). That might explain the dilemma facing the Toronto Raptors as they embark on their  2012-'13 NBA season. With the Maple Leafs on sabbatical while NHL owners take their business model off-road again, there’s a great opportunity for the Raps in victory-deprived southern Ontario (SoOnt to the hip).

The local sporting scene is ripe to embrace a winner, any winner. Win 35 games and the locals will take you to their heart. Win 40 games and they might throw you a parade down Yonge Street. How tough is that for Canada’s only NBA team?

Tough enough. As they tipoff against the mighty Pacers of Indiana on Wednesday, the Raptors lack a certain basketball je ne sais quoi. Okay, they’re not very good at this moment. They haven’t been very good for years. In a league where stars run the show, the Raptors have no franchise guy. Steve Nash took a pass in favour of the Lakers. They have no identity.

There is the usual Brian Colangelo-inspired optimism about callow young players like Jonas Valanciunas and newly acquired veterans Kyle Lowry and Landry Fields. But while many believe the Raps will be far better this time next year, that does nothing to fill the gaping void left in Toronto by the hockey heroes taking a powder this winter. 

There are nice stories. Coach Dwayne Casey is in the Toronto coach immunity bubble - no one expects his team to win so he’s excused almost everything - but Casey is threatening to create expectations for himself through sheer competence. Recent draft picks like Demar Derozan are verging on competing with the NBA East’s elite. Former No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani is like $2000 gold, always just beyond horizon.

Yet that does nothing to capture the affections of Toronto’s fickle fan base. It has no hockey, refuses to get enthused about the Argos and has given up on Toronto FC. Is it too much to ask for a pinch of magic dust? Just a little glitter to get Rod Black’s cliche machine rolling? There's a battered lawn chair on Yonge Street riding on the outcome.

* * *

It’s going to take a little while to get used to Steve Nash in the L.A. Lakers' gold and purple. Running the Princeton offence. It’s like seeing the Sedin Twins in Calgary. Or Tom Brady with the Jets. There are a lot of moving pieces for the Lakers. Most of them old. Just because LeBron James and Dwyane Wade worked doesn’t mean these matches always work. 

Think Mark Sanchez and Tebow. Or Sean Penn and Madonna. Or John McCain campaigning with Sarah Palin. There’s no rule saying these things work. As we saw with Dallas beating them handily in their home opener. But we got used to LeBron and Dwyane and Chris Bosh; we can get used to almost anything. And an NBA title would be nice for Canada's ordinary superstar.

* * *

Frankly, we never suspected CTV as the Tosh2.0 of networks. But they’re apparently having a sweet time punking Hockey Night In Canada’s franchise on Saturday Night with their Big Bang Night On CTV. You may remember previously, CTV wanted to call the four-episode pack in Saturday primetime, “Big Bang Night In Canada”. Then the CBC’s first responders jumped in to claim copyright violation or infringement or one of those $5 legal words. 

Having landed their torpedo, the CTV mirth makers changed the name to Big Bang Night On CTV. Same diff. Tuesday, they let us know that business is healthy with their Saturday “stunt”. Overall TV viewership in the time slot is off five percent with the NHL product, and HNIC’s lost viewers have been spread across multiple sources. 

According to CTV, CBC (which is showing vintage games) has retained 11 percent of hockey viewers, CTV has gained 19 percent, Global has gained five percent and U.S. stations have gained 11 percent. A healthy 34 percent of former hockey viewers have flocked to Canadian English language specialty channels. 

Joking aside, it will be interesting to see when HNIC returns just how many viewers make this a permanent switch. No doubt, the NHL commissioner will offer a nice inducement for them to return. Gary Bettman is always thinking of others.

dowbboy@shaw.ca/ twitter @dowbboy

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